Avios Redemption University – Lesson 1 – A Beginners Guide to Redeeming Avios

This series of articles, which I group together as “Avios Redemption University”, cover some of the different ways of using your Avios. In particular, they highlight deals which offer surprisingly good value for your points, such as redeeming on ‘low tax’ airlines.

In this introductory post, I want to run through the key principles of redeeming your Avios points for flights.

Fundamentally, it is as simple as going to the ‘spend your Avios’ page on ba.com (assuming your Avios are sitting in British Airways Executive Club and not avios.com or Iberia Plus) and putting in the dates you want to fly.  You can use the ‘Combine Your Avios’ function on ba.com to move all of your points into one account – transfers are free and instantaneous.

In reality, there are a huge number of nuances you need to understand. Much of it will come from experience, but there are some of the key points.

Understanding how Avios flights are priced

The basis of Avios pricing is this simple grid, which prices flights based on the one-way distance flown.  This is the pricing chart introduced in April 2015:

Redemption chart 2

The zones relate to the distance flown:

  • Zone 1:  1 – 650 miles
  • Zone 2:  651 – 1,150 miles
  • Zone 3:  1,151 – 2,000 miles
  • Zone 4:  2,001 – 3,000 miles
  • Zone 5:  3,001 – 4,000 miles
  • Zone 6:  4,001 – 5,500 miles
  • Zone 7:  5,501 – 6,500 miles
  • Zone 8:  6,501 – 7,000 miles
  • Zone 9:  7,000+ miles

How do I know what my flight will cost?

You don’t need to start measuring the distance to your proposed destination!  There is a calculator on ba.com which will tell you miles required for any direct redemption flight.  Alternatively, and more quickly, you can find the price for any British Airways route using the chart here.

The list of peak and off-peak dates for the next 12 months can be found in this article. Flights with any airline other than British Airways and Iberia will ALWAYS price at the peak rate.

This pricing chart does NOT apply to flights on Iberia.  The pricing chart for redemptions on Iberia, whether booked via ba.com or iberia.com, can be found in this article.  Iberia also has its own list of peak and off-peak dates which differs from the British Airways list.

Note:  There is a second British Airways Avios redemption pricing chart for trips which use two or more oneworld carriers apart from British Airways.  This chart is rarely used and I do not discuss it very often, but you can find it here.  A flight such as London – Berlin (BA) – Abu Dhabi (airberlin) – Doha (Qatar) would price off this chart.  There is a permanent link to this chart under ‘Key ba.com links’ in the right hand margin of the desktop HFP site.

How is pricing calculated for connecting flights?

Pricing is based on EACH individual flight, not the distance between origin and destination. This means that the Avios charged for a particular route can vary depending on how you fly there:

London to Abu Dhabi on British Airways is non-stop and 3400 miles, so costs 13,000 miles in Economy one-way off-peak and 20,000 miles on a peak day

London to Abu Dhabi on Qatar Airways (or a mix of BA and Qatar) involves a change in Doha. London to Doha is 3,200 miles and Doha to Abu Dhabi is 230 miles. This means your flight will cost (20,000 + 4,500=) 24,500 Avios, one way.  There is no difference between peak and off-peak pricing on partner airlines such as Qatar.

The only exception is when booking a UK domestic connection to/from London to connect to a long-haul flight. No additional Avios are required for this.

If you don’t have enough Avios for your flight, British Airways runs a scheme called ‘Avios and Money’ which allows you to use fewer Avios to book your flight in return for paying a cash fee. This is explained in more detail here.

What taxes are due?

Your cost of your reward flight will also include a charge for ‘taxes and surcharges’. This is mainly a fuel surcharge and the UK Government’s Air Passenger Duty.

The charge vary amongst airlines. Further articles in this series will focus on low tax options with Aer Lingus, airberlin and Iberia. However, going back to my example above, London to Abu Dhabi on British Airways, return, has a tax charge of £292 in Economy.

This is, frankly, crazy.  You can usually pick up an economy flight to Abu Dhabi or Dubai in a sale for around £350 return on BA or one of the Middle Eastern airlines.

Unless you fly on Aer Lingus or airberlin, or start your trip outside the UK, these taxes clearly make Economy redemptions in long haul poor value for money unless you are travelling at peak times such as school holidays. This is why Head for Points usually recommends redeeming in Business or First Class – the taxes will be around £500 per person, return, but this is still a fraction of the usual cash price of your seat.

Taxes and surcharges on European flights are capped at £35 for Economy and £50 for Business on British Airways flights.  This makes short-haul redemptions good value in either class.  The next article in this series looks at Reward Flight Saver in more detail.

Using Avios to upgrade

You can also use Avios points to upgrade a flight by one class on BA, Iberia and American Airlines. This is explained in our ‘How to Upgrade with Avios’ article.

The key points to know are:

You cannot upgrade from the cheapest non-refundable Economy tickets – this is meant to be changing in early 2016 although the details have not yet been released

You CAN upgrade from the cheapest World Traveller Plus or Club World fares to Club World or First Class respectively

The cost of an upgrade is the difference between an Avios redemption in the class booked and a redemption in the next highest class

You can upgrade at the time of booking or later, it makes no difference

You can only upgrade if there are Avios redemption seats available in the higher class

These upgrades are now substantially poorer value following the April 2015 Avios changes.  Upgrading a return World Traveller Plus ticket to New York, for example, will now cost 48,000 Avios off peak and 40,000 Avios on a peak day.

How did I calculate this?  A Zone 5 Club World redemption is 50,000 Avios one-way off-peak.  A Zone 5 World Traveller Plus redemption is 26,000 Avios one-way off-peak.  The cost of the upgrade is therefore (50,000 – 26,000 x 2 for a return =) 48,000 Avios.

You will still earn Avios and tier points for the original cash ticket you booked which reduces the net cost of the upgrade.

Which airlines can I redeem on?

A full list of the 37 (!) airlines which let you redeem Avios points can be found here.

On ba.com:

British Airways Executive Club lets you redeem for all 15 airlines in the oneworld alliance plus Aer Lingus, Flybe, Comair (South Africa) and Alaska.

Aer Lingus redemptions CANNOT be booked online and there is no 100% certain way of checking availability before you call.  A later article in this series will discuss Aer Lingus in more detail.

If you have British Airways Gold status, you will find more economy availability on British Airways flights on ba.com than avios.com.  This is because BA opens up additional economy reward seats to its Gold members.

On avios.com:

You may at times want to book on avios.com.  Whilst they do NOT offer oneworld alliance partners except for Iberia and American Airlines, they do offer seats on Air Malta, Flybe, Monarch and Aurigny – you cannot book three of these four airlines at ba.com.  Flybe availability also differs between avios.com and ba.com.

Do NOT book British Airways short haul flights on avios.com because the taxes are higher.  I explain why in this article.

On iberia.com:

Long-haul redemptions on Iberia have SUBSTANTIALLY lower taxes when booked at iberia.com.  You will save at least £300 per person.  I will discuss this in a stand-alone article on Iberia later in this series.

Iberia Plus also has access to flights from Vueling, Royal Air Maroc, Iberia Express and others which you cannot book at ba.com.

Key facts to know when redeeming:

Availability opens up 355 days prior to departure for British Airways and most other airlines

At least four economy and two business class seats will be available immediately on BA flights.  There is no guarantee of World Traveller Plus or First Class seats being available at 355 days out.  Further seats will usually open up at random in the months approaching departure, depending on sales of cash tickets.

Avios redemption tickets can be changed or cancelled for a £35 per ticket fee, deducted from the refund of your taxes.  All cash and Avios are returned, the Avios usually come back instantly.  If you booked on ba.com and the taxes were lower than £35, you do not need to pay the difference.  If you booked on avios.com and the taxes were lower than £35, you WILL need to pay the difference.

You can change the return even after you have flown the outbound, subject to Avios seats being available

Infants (under 2) who do not need a seat pay 10% of the standard Avios and 10% of the standard taxes

You can fly into one airport and out of another without penalty. These redemptions can only be booked over the telephone, unless you book them as two one-way redemptions.

It is OK to mix airlines when booking a redemption – you can fly British Airways to Doha and then Qatar Airways on to Dubai, for example, on the same ticket.

Flights on airlines other than BA and Iberia will ALWAYS be charged at the peak rate.  If you combine a BA flight and a partner flight on the same one-way journey (eg London to Doha on BA and Doha to Dubai on Qatar) the BA flight will be charged at the peak rate irrespective of the BA ‘peak and off-peak’ calendar.

The ba.com website often struggles to offer all possible options when looking for redemptions to North America which involve a connection in the US.  A good tip is to search via the American Airlines website at aa.com – you don’t need an account with them.  Any reward seats which show as ‘sAAver’ flights on aa.com can be booked using Avios points – if you cannot get ba.com to bring up the flights then you need to call BA.

British Airways Gold members can book ANY BA flight for an Avios redemption, in ANY class.  It will cost you double Avios and you cannot combine this with a British Airways American Express 2-4-1 voucher.  You need to ring BA and ask to book a Gold Priority Reward – more details here.  These can only be booked up to 30 days before travel.

Want to learn more?

Keep an eye out for further updated articles in this series over the next few weeks.  If you found this useful, you can share it with your friends via the social media buttons below.

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  1. Stephen C says:

    The second flight example under “How is pricing calculated for connecting flights?” says to London to Abu Dhabi, I think you meant London to Dubai.

  2. I was charged £100 by BA for changing two first class Avios redemption tickets when changing my return flight to Heathrow, from Beijing to Hong Kong, should that have been £70?

    • If you did it over the phone, there is an additional £15 phone fee (waived if Gold)

    • I recently changed a booking over the phone (CW to First, one way) and was charged £35 per ticket/person, I’m not BA Gold. I also would have argued my case if they had tried as there was no mechanism for me to change the booking online myself (2-4-1 booking), and also I had been on hold for about 30 mins in a queue.

      • Thanks for this, I will call them back as I think this fee is unjust since as you say there is no mechanism to do this online and it does seem that it depends which agent one gets

  3. Thanks for the ‘Refresher’.

  4. Thanks for the update.

    Could you advise when not to have family accounts. I have a family account on Avios , so can’t move miles to/from BA. I am going to have to remove my wife from the account via a letter (how very 1980’s!) in order to get points flowing.

    Would I have the same issues on a family account on BA?

    If I do not update the account number on her TSB credit card, I would if the points would still come to my account?

    In reality most points will be earned by myself – so not a major issue. I only merged the accounts as I thought it made sense at the time.

    • Avios family accounts merge all individual Avios accounts into one new account for the family with one single account number.

      BAEC combines the individual accounts under one umbrella but everyone retains their own account numbers.

      Personally I don’t think there is much benefit in having an Avios.com family account due to the transfer restrictions/issues you have highlighted.

      BAEC family accounts are more user-friendly. The issue always used to be if you needed to book tickets for people outside your family account (which wasn’t possible) but is now easier to do than before.

      • cheekychappie says:

        It’s useful to get your hands on the kids’ points.

        Not the wife’s – I agree.

    • I have often converted our two accounts into a Family account to use the full total for a booking then immediately split them again.
      It just needs a simple form to be signed by all parties.

  5. With the BA Prem Amex 2-1 voucher, can this be booked as 2 separate one-way flights on BA?

    For example, LHR to CPT, returning from JNB to LHR?

    • Yes as what you’re describing is an open-jaw, which is fine. You can’t use them for two entirely separate bookings, but this sort of thing is fine (my folks did EDI-LHR-GIG/EZE-LHR-EZE on a 241 in CW).

      • the ‘open’ part needs to be shorter than both legs beginning/ending in UK

        • Does anyone have experience yet of whether it is possible to use the Lloyds upgrade voucher on an open-jaw return?

          • Yes – at least I hope so as I intend to use mine in a couple of weeks. I have spoken to Avios about our upcoming booking using the voucher and open jaw and was told it was ok – just waiting to reach the 355 days next month to phone up and book. Currently checking availability each day and seems to be ok at the moment so fingers crossed. Going to try and wait it out to get the return booking all included on the same ticket without having to do 2 one ways as I was told I couldn’t add the return flight at a later date – so want to get return flight together to avoid the higher taxes on the way out.

            • Thanks for the reply, Liz. Good news that open jaw a possibility.
              It sounds (if I have understood correctly) as if you are currently risking your first choice outbound flight waiting for the return flight to be loaded on the system. Have you been told by Avios that the BAEC 2-4-1 ‘trick’ to get round not ‘adding’ a return later (ie booking the first available return then changing the return date when the one you really want opens up) won’t work with the Lloyds voucher? Would be very interested to hear back from you (or anyone else who’s used their Lloyds voucher) if this is possible. Cheers, and good luck with the booking!

        • Good point!

          • Matt, I was told that you cannot add the return flight 3 weeks later, however, I think I may make another call to check to see if I get the same answer. I didn’t ask about booking a return flight and then changing it later. We are flexible with our dates. We want to go end of Aug beg of Sept 2016 so my plan is to call at 8am on Sat 24 Sept for flights for Tues 23rd Aug returning Sun 11th Sept. If that doesn’t work then I will try the following Sat to do the same thing for 30 Aug/18 Sept . If that doesn’t work and availability is low I will resort to doing 2 one way tickets and take the hit of increased taxes on the out journey. The return taxes appear to be the same. I am currently tracking the dates 355 days back from now and there seems to be ok availability for 2 – I will just keep watching every other day to check. This will be our first ever trip in CW since seriously collecting from Dec. We are flying to Houston and coming back from Chicago. I am currently working on my spend on the BAPP to get the 2-4-1 voucher for our next trip to the USA. Will keep you posted if I get the flights we want in one booking!

            • OK I just called Avios and was told that their tickets are only valid for one year from the date of booking so if I booked an outward journey say for one day and a return journey the following on one ticket trying to do the BAEC 2-4-1 trick I would NOT be able to amend the return flight beyond the date I had booked ie beyond 12 months, I could only amend it forward in time. Only way round this is to book 2 one way flights or wait for the return flight to become available and hope the out journey is still available.

            • I forgot to say she said this was an Avios UK ruling and not a limitation of the Lloyds voucher – so how can BAEC allow you to change the return flight to a later date and not Avios?

  6. Sussex Bantam says:

    Hi – I see that Air Miles availability opens up 355 days ahead – is there a specific time they become available – midnight ?

  7. Pszczolka says:

    Has anyone had luck with calling BA when they see AA Saver flights and actually being able to book? I tried this a few times for an upcoming trip (Boston to South America) and even though AA showed lots of availability at the Saver level, the BA agents said their availability was different and that AA only gave them a certain number of seats.

    I’m curious if this is because I called the US customer service (I’m US based now) versus the UK one, if it depends on the agent, or if maybe this isn’t true anymore?

    • I’ve had the same problem in March, calling the Uk call center… Hoped it was just a fluke.

    • I would have called back, it should be visible

      • Would be worth asking them to check as 2x one way as well as a return. I recently booked QantasLink flights (not available online, only mainline QF are) and they couldn’t find availability at first. I asked them to check again (as I could see standard availability on the QF website) and they then said they’d check ‘a different way’ – lo and behold they found the seats! I asked the agent at the end of the call what they’d done differently and she said she’d checked as 2x OW.

        • Pszczolka says:

          Thanks Alan, I will try to be more persistent next time I guess. I spoke to three different agents and they all gave me the same story of AA only releasing a certain number of flights to them, not all the ones that they show. I wonder if this is in writing anywhere?

  8. A great update so thanks.

    The link ‘our How to Upgrade with Avios article’ doesn’t work in either the email you sent or the online version. I know it’s too late to correct the email but it might be worth correcting the on-line link.


  9. Thanks Raffles.

    Although am I not correct in saying that a domestic avios redemption is now charged desperately in conjunction with your leg onward from London?

    • You’re only charged extra for short haul flights ex-LON, for longhaul you still get the domestic connection free. I had many nice EU trips courtesy of RFS so the loss of this has made a major difference to the utility of Avios for me. Thankfully they’re still very good value for internal flights in the USA and Australia!

    • Not on long haul – only on short haul redemptions.

  10. Your article says:
    “The only exception is when booking a UK domestic connection to/from London to connect to a long-haul flight. No additional Avios are required for this.”

    Isn’t that what changed in April so this is no longer true? Or did they only start charging for short-haul?

    • No, what changed in April was the loss of the free domestic connection on short-haul flights – it used to be that all domestic connecting flights were free, now they only apply to long-haul flights.

      • This is frustrating me at the moment. I want to book MAN – MIA but there is no availability.

        Yet if I do them separately (MAN – LHR, then LHR – MIA) there are flights available all day for the trip to LHR, and seats on the plane to MIA

        Anyone know the explanation for this? Feeling a bit conned about it!

        • This is on Avios by the way – I’m trying to use my Lloyds voucher :)

        • Might be a too-short connecting time (or a too-long one). Ringing Avios should get it done UNLESS your connection time is shorter than the minimum connecting time allowed.

          • Thanks a lot Raffles – I should have mentioned that the LHR – MIA flight leaves @ 13:50, and arrivals from MAN, hit LHR:
            @ 07:50
            @ 09:05
            @ 11:05 <—– this is the one we'd want (obviously :) )
            @ 13:15

            Will give our friends @ Avios a call to try it before I do anything else!

            PS – I know it's subjective, but we have the potential for quite a large stash of Avios (around 200k sat in Amex / Tesco for possible conversion). Plus around 65k in Avios.com…. So with the Lloyds 2-for-1 upgrade voucher, we can get (one-way) LHR – MIA
            2 x WTP for £576 + 32,500 Avios
            2 x CW for £680 + 62,500 Avios

            Thinking I will go for CW for the extra £50 per person and Avios. Any thoughts, comments or obvious things I have missed?

  11. Hi, Could I ask for some advice please. I currently have circa 240,000 avios, and I plan to go to KUL with my wife and 2 Children ( under 5) over Christmas and then onto Maldives for new year, before flying home. We generally fly economy, but I would like to upgrade our outbound overnight leg to Business class.
    Looking @ Ba.com, I am offered a saving of £400 on my 4 economy tickets for using 65,000 avios, would this prevent me from being able to upgrade my out bound leg using avios at a later stage?

    I am based in Scotland, and we have to fly to London anyway, but should I also be considering
    alternate airlines / routes eg Air Berlin?

    Thanks in advance

    • Hi Chris. I am covering upgrading in an article tomorrow. You cannot upgrade from economy to business – only from World Traveller Plus. You also need Avios redemptions seats to be available in Club World which could be very tricky over Christmas.

      KUL is easier so you may find 4 Club World seats there.

      The cost of upgrading will also be covered in the article on Wednesday.

      For a straight redemption, an option would be EDI to Doha on Qatar one way in Business Class for 4 people (240k Avios) and then pay cash for the rest. You won’t get much further than that assuming your kids are all 2 or older.

      • Thanks for such a fast response.
        I will check out your suggestions and look forward to reading the rest of your articles.

  12. Hey great article.. but now I am not sure what is best to do. I have around 90,000 Avios and soon to start solo backpacking again. I want to fly to Bangkok in mid-september. All my points are in my Avios account at the moment and there are flights there for 19,500 but with a £200 sur-charge… thats not really cool. Do you recommend just buy a single ticket to BKK, which I can get for £300ish and using the avios for Euro travel whenever I am back.. its a real shame, was hoping to use them around asia for longer flights.

    • cheekychappie says:

      Avios are not really that valuable vs cash if you’re flying long haul in economy. If you are on a budget, maybe best to save them for Euro travel or short haul elsewhere. You could explore similar Avios flights to the ones you’ve noted but which leave a European airport —> South East Asia. Then you get a cheap connecting flight to the European airport & save the taxes. In other words: you have the Avios in the bank, so if you could find a 19,500 Av flight to BKK from (say) Amsterdam but needed to spend £50 to get to Amsterdam to save the taxes, would you go for that?

      • Yeah I would defo do that.. thing is such flights don’t seem to be available. Unless I am looking in the wrong place? I searching via the Avios site for Ireland, Germany, Holland to BKK. So far there doesn’t seem to be any flights like this that I can take. Any advice on finding these flights?

        • You mean the avios.com site? Forget that. You need to search via ba.com (and move your Avios across via Combine My Avios) because only ba.com has other oneworld airlines on it. You may want to try Amsterdam or Frankfurt to Bangkok, for example, which will probably show you Cathay Pacific and Qatar options.

          Lower taxes will be offset by a higher Avios requirement (all partner airline flights are priced at peak day rates and charged by segment) and of course you need to get to Amsterdam, Frankfurt etc.

          Picking a BA flight from Amsterdam to Bangkok will save you Air Passenger Duty although you will pay more in Avios. It may not be worth it.

    • You can use them around Asia – intra-Asia flights can be expensive and you can redeem on Cathay Pacific and Japan Airlines. Neither will charge you more than a nominal sum for taxes. Japan Airlines domestic flights usually have zero taxes.

  13. Robert, thanks for taking the time to write this up. I liked the overall lesson of the refinancing process being short-term pain, long-term gain. I especially liked point #9 of not just choosing a mortgage based on a bonus of frequent flyer miles.